Constructivism

Constructivism is another and also interesting way of looking at international relations. It may tell us more about why things are happening the way they do, but somewhat less about what we should do about it. Constructivism argues that culture, social structures and human institutional frameworks matter. Constructivism relies in part on the theory of the social construction of reality, which says that whatever reality is perceived to be, for the most part people have invented it.Of course, if the theory were entirely true, then the very idea of the social construction of reality would also be socially constructed, and therefore potentially untrue. To the extent that reality is socially constructed, people can make choices. Hence the constructivist argument is, in part, that while the world system is indeed a form of anarchy, that does not demand a realist response to foreign policy. People can choose to otherwise. So constructivists might argue that the end of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was at least in part a decision by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to change his thinking. He attempted then to ratchet down tensions with the U.S., and to liberalize Soviet society.Bova, 2012, p. 26. The fact that the Soviet Union promptly disintegrated doesn’t change that.

2.4 Combining theories to explain: The Cuban missile crisis

Although constructivism can be a bit mushy, some clear versions of it are quite interesting and useful in helping to understand why states behave the way they do. Realism tends to treat states as single, rational actors—as though the state were a single being, behaving in a consistent fashion with a constant eye to its own interest. As detailed by the scholar Graham AllisonGraham Allison, Essence of Decision, 1971., the rational actor model of analysis sees states nearly as single organisms, pursuing policies with some planning and coherence. Allison used the 1963 Cuban missile crisis, in which the United States and the Soviet Union nearly came to blows over the Soviets’ efforts to put nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, to explain how other factors could explain why states behave the way they do. Allison suggests two other models. In the organizational process model, the regular behavior and processes of government agencies (bureaucracies) tends to dictate how and why things happen in government. So, for example, one of the ways in which U.S. officials were able to figure out that the Soviets were building missile sites was from aerial reconnaissance and satellite photos of the sites. Despite the fact that the Soviets were trying to keep the missiles a secret, so they could be set up and ready to go if the Soviets should have to confront the U.S. in anyway, the sites they were building looked just like all the Soviet missile sites they’d ever built.

In the governmental politics model, internal political struggles can lead to decisions that may at least be questionable. In this case, Soviet President Nikita Khruschev may have been pushed by internal political forces to put missiles in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy faced internal pressure for air strikes on the Soviet sites in Cuba, but resisted them.

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